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Female caregivers face inadequate finances in retirement: Study

SINGAPORE — In 2012, Ms Kris Foo, a self-employed design consultant, decided to become a full-time caregiver to her mother, who has dementia.

Female caregivers face inadequate finances in retirement: Study

From left: Ms Kris Foo, a caregiver; Assistant Professor Rahul Malhotra, head of research at the Centre for Ageing Research and Education at Duke-NUS Medical School; and Ms Shailey Hingorani, head of advocacy and research at Aware, releasing a study on caregiving on Sept 18, 2019.

SINGAPORE — In 2012, Ms Kris Foo, a self-employed design consultant, decided to become a full-time caregiver to her mother, who has dementia.

“I wanted to understand my mother’s position and provide the best care for her. I wanted her to age in place at home, because that’s the environment she was most familiar with,” Ms Foo, 52, said on Wednesday (Sept 18).

However, she was not prepared for the challenges of caregiving. Although she does some work from home while caring for her mother, now 86, she has already spent more than S$100,000 just on her mother’s household expenses from 2012 to 2016.

Ms Foo, who is single with no children, now faces financial worries.

“I feel very insecure about my future. I’ve depleted my savings and I have no spousal support. My income is practically gone and I have no other family monetary support.”

Ms Foo was one of several respondents in a study published by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) on Wednesday that highlights the challenges — including financial challenges — faced by caregivers, especially women.

The study, titled Make Care Count, found that an ageing population, coupled with persistent inequality between the genders, are a burden on women’s retirement finances here.

For example, on average, respondents whose work situation changed because of caregiving suffered a 63 per cent loss in income, or an average annual loss of S$56,877.

The study also found that caregivers could spend an average of up to S$1,917 a month, or 64 per cent of their average monthly household income, on care-related expenses.

HOW THE STUDY WAS CONDUCTED

As part of the study done last year, Aware’s research team spoke to 22 female caregivers, including Ms Foo, between the ages of 45 and 65. Respondents had an average monthly household income of S$3,511. While most held university degrees, they were not employed or looking for a job at the time the study was conducted.

The team also talked to academics, healthcare professionals and community-based-care service providers, and referred to past academic papers on caregiving in Singapore.

HOW ARE CAREGIVERS' FINANCES AFFECTED?

Work arrangements incompatible with caregiving: The study found that many respondents struggled to balance work with caregiving. Out of 21 respondents who used to work, 14 had reduced their work hours or quit their jobs as a result of their caregiving duties.

They found their work arrangements to be incompatible with caregiving, which involved frequent supervision of care recipients, and responding to their unpredictable health conditions.

Of the 14 respondents, 11 of them had been providing “high levels of care”, such as caring for dementia sufferers, and those who needed help with more than three activities of daily living (ADL), such as bathing, dressing, eating or going to the toilet.

The study found that changes in a caregiver’s employment status had long-term consequences — such as uncertainty over rejoining the workforce, being overlooked for jobs due to age or they have limited job options due to declining health.

It also noted that while flexible work arrangements are offered by employers here, the take-up rate is low because employees worry that a lack of face time with bosses could affect work evaluations.

Caregiving leads to loss of income: Respondents forced to do less paid work ended up suffering an average 63 per cent loss in income and this loss was markedly higher for those looking after dementia sufferers.

Doing less paid work also meant smaller contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF). Respondents lost an average of S$7,705 a year in CPF contributions due to caregiving.

“This has negative implications for the caregivers’ own retirement adequacy since Singaporeans are expected to rely on their CPF savings for retirement and healthcare needs,” the study said.

This was especially of concern for women, who outnumbered men in 2017 for not being able to hit the basic retirement sum of S$83,000 in their retirement accounts at age 55.

WHY IS CAREGIVING A WOMAN’S PROBLEM?

With a growing proportion of older people here, and fewer younger people to support their care needs, the family caregiving burden on each individual is set to grow considerably, and would fall more on women given “persisting unequal gender norms”, the report said.

Ms Shailey Hingorani, the head of advocacy and research at Aware, who headed the study, said that with women more likely to shoulder the burden of caregiving, coupled with how they are likely to live longer than men, concerns over their retirement adequacy become even more important.

Figures from the Manpower Ministry's Labour Force Survey showed that there was an almost 10 per cent increase in the number of women who cited family responsibilities as the main reason for being out of the labour force between 2016 and 2018.

While the Government promotes an “ageing in place” policy, which involves caring and supporting older relatives to grow old in their own community rather than in a care facility, the study noted that this policy compromises a caregiver’s ability to build their own retirement adequacy.

The present generation of seniors could rely on their family members for caregiving, but this is unlikely to be the case for respondents such as Ms Foo who are unmarried and without children, the report added.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

Recommendations by Aware included introducing the statutory right for employees to request flexible work arrangements.

It also recommends six days of paid leave for the care of older relatives, on top of the six days of childcare leave available to those caring for children. Those caring for both children and aged parents should be eligible for 12 days of paid leave, the report said.

Aware also called for a new caregiver support grant, with both cash and CPF components for family caregivers. It noted that some respondents of its study felt strongly that they should be given an allowance to recognise their work, especially as they had to give up their jobs to do so.

Ms Foo said that of the recommendations, the caregiver support grant would be the most useful because it would help relieve the financial burden of recurring expenses.

Ms Hingorani called the recommendations “practical and feasible” and said that many had been tried out in other countries.

However, Assistant Professor Rahul Malhotra, the head of research at the Centre for Ageing Research and Education at Duke-NUS Medical School, cautioned that the cost of any such moves would be a consideration for the Government and employers.

Related topics

ageing population finance retirement income gender inequality women caregivers

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